Jaques (As You Like It)

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Jaques and the Wounded Stag by William Hodges
Creator William Shakespeare
Play As You Like It
Other name(s) Melancholy Jaques
Role Philosopher
Quote All the World's a Stage..

Jaques is one of the main characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The 'Melancholy Jaques' as he's always being called is one of Duke Senior's noblemen who lives with him in the Forest of Arden. The role has long been a favorite for famous Shakespearean actors.

Jaques' cynicism[edit]

Jaques' distinguishing characteristic is his unmitigated cynicism. He is the only purely contemplative character in Shakespeare. He thinks, and does nothing. His whole occupation is to amuse his mind, and he is totally regardless of his body and his fortunes. Hazlitt describes him as "the prince of philosophical idler; his only passion is thought; he sets no value upon anything but as it serves as food for reflection".[1]

Role in the play[edit]

Jaques' role in the play is more of an observer than an actor. Early in the play, Jaques remains a mystery to the audience, being discussed extensively by fellow characters. Once he appears, Jaques' thematic importance and memorable presence in As You Like It is quite impressive.

Though much about Jaques' past is obscure - his conversations with Rosalind shows that he lost his optimism while traveling the world. Whatever the root of his bitterness, Jaques always places himself outside the group of happy characters who populate Arden.

His function seems to be to provide a sharp foil for the wit of other characters, but also to create a shadow within the sunny forest. Jaques is a constant reminder that in the real world time is not suspended, and grief, sorrow and death provide a counterpoint to all human joys, a kind of embodied presentiment of Poussin's 'et in arcadia ego'.